One thing I miss about Hong Kong action movies is their sheer craziness. They used to be the most creative and unpredictable in the world. The best Hong Kong action movies used to leave us in awe for their sheer bat-shit craziness. At last, one has come along after a long drought.
Line Walker 2: Invisible Spy, the latest Hong Kong cop thriller out this summer is the most berserk, gleefully insane action movie for years. Hobbs & Shaw have nothing on this movie.
Not a Sequel, But a Franchise
Despite the "2" in its title, this is not a sequel. The first Line Walker (which you can stream on Netflix) was a standalone thriller about the race to uncover deep undercover cops and the mole who threatens them all. It was actually adaptation of a hit Hong Kong TVB series from 2014, condensing over 30 episodes of story into a single movie.
Line Walker 2: Invisible Spy is a standalone movie with a new plot but keeps the same director, Jazz Boon, and same three bankable Hong Kong stars. The prolific Louis Koo, Nick Cheung (who was a real-life cop before he became an actor) and Francis Ng play new characters here. The story is still about undercover cops. This time, it's about cops trying to uncover who might be a deep-cover mole working for a global James Bond-style conspiracy.
We don't go to Hong Kong action movies for realism. We go for the sheer lunacy. This is a Movie-movie, cobbled together from other movies to create something mad.
Thank God for Hong Kong Mayhem
Line Walker 2 sets out to consciously out-Woo John Woo in its sentimental male bonding through gunfights. It also has the best crazy action sequences that aren't rendered weightless with CGI like Hobbs & Shaw does now. The story has that sense of unironic Hong Kong melodrama that's so over-the-top and mawkish that it becomes hilariously kitsch. It thinks nothing of introducing a character's wife and then fridging her two minutes later just to set up his dilemma. This is gleeful, 100 miles a minute pulp where no plot twist is too cheap, no crazy plot point too clichéd to ignore. It throws every trope from the heroic bloodshed genre in the mix like it's baking the spiciest cake ever. This is one of those movies that isn't afraid of killing off characters willy-nilly. That's a Hong Kong crime movie tradition.
Yet it also sets out to create setpieces you haven't seen before. There's a massive shootout in the middle of a busy city centre in Myanmar that's like Michael Mann on speed. I was amazed at the orchestration of crashing cars, dozens of gunmen and a helicopter and hundreds of extras in the most impressive sequence for years. Of course, there's a three-way shootout in an empty restaurant that's clearly a crazed homage to John Woo. The climax is a car chase and shootout in the middle of the annual Pamplona running of the bulls festival in Spain that defies belief. I just hope all those moments of bulls getting hit by cars and being rammed off a cliff were CGI. And it has to have the longest, most agonizingly drawn-out fight-to-the-death with a sadistic henchman ever, complete with an angry bull.
The New Generation of Hong Kong Action Directors
Jazz Boon is a prolific TV producer and director who creates high concept thriller series for Hong Kong's TVB network. He's honed his skills over nearly a decade of fast, cheap TV shows he created, but still made them look slick as hell.
Boon directs with a crisp, precise efficiency like action and genre tropes are second nature to him. Every camera position, every crane shot, every dolly move is exactly where it needs to be. Boon directs with bright colours and an unabashed pop sensibility. Boon seems to be the kind of director whose touch is pure Style in the way that Brian de Palma and Tony Scott's work became. If film critics still paid attention to Hong Kong movies, they would be going nuts over Jazz Boon now. His shows and two (to date) movies are designed to entertain, and they're unpretentiously entertaining as all hell.
Line Walker 2: Invisible Spy is the most hysterical action movie for years, let along from Hong Kong. It's playing at AMC theatres in select US cities now.